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March 15, 2007

Under The Knife

Some Stories Remain the Same

by Will Carroll

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Let's see--Pete Rose once again admits to gambling, stating once again that he had an agreement with MLB to return. Gary Matthews Jr. says he didn't use hGH, putting himself at risk of perjury in the court of public opinion. There's nothing I like more than talking about those two topics, so please forgive me a little bitterness today. What I wouldn't give for a good intrascrotal hematoma story to ease the pain. Let's try to focus on what's going on between the lines, and if not between the lines, then in the training room. At this point, whoever gets Pete Rose to just shut up gets my vote for the Hall of Fame. Wait, a minute, I'll be in Vegas this week and Pete will be signing autographs ... nah. Powered by planning ahead, on to the injuries:

  • Throwing a slider is hard. It's adding a twist to the already complex task of repeating the mechanics of throwing a ball. By twist, I mean literally. The wrist and hand have to twist to spin the ball in just the right way, at just the right time, all while not hurting the pitcher and while creating the proper "shape" for the pitch. The intricate task is complicated by so many factors, but early in spring, just finding the proper release point is a matter of feel for most pitchers, trying to re-learn the neuromuscular pathways that they'll need to succeed. Knowing that, you'll know not to worry too much when you see pitchers lacking control at this stage of the spring. Almost all pitchers are mixing in all of their pitchers by this stage, unless they're held back by injury, and that extra task often causes a lot more balls or even more walks. Scott Kazmir didn't have the best session, causing one baseball source to call me and ask if Kazmir's shoulder was acting up. No, Kazmir's fine, on target to make the Opening Day start for the Rays. For his health, watch his velocity more than his control. Absent any wild swings, I don't even look for control during spring training, though I will listen when a source talks about command.

  • Seeing progress from Bobby Crosby is nice. It's hard, however, to put his history out of my mind. His latest struggle is coming back from spinal surgery, done late last year to stabilize a fracture in his lower back. The injury is very difficult to diagnose, and ruined his 2006 season, but it's also usually relatively easy to come back from. Still, Crosby seems to be one of the "tissue issue" guys, someone who simply can't hold up under the workload of a major league season. Some adjust, like J.D. Drew, and remain productive. Crosby's relative importance to his team will give him every chance to come back time and again. He's back hitting, and hopes to be in games by the weekend. The thing to watch out for is if he can turn on the ball. If he's guarding the back, or if it remains stiff, expect to see him behind on pitches and "arming" the bat through the zone. Early reports from people in Arizona are guardedly optimistic, which is about the best you can be with Crosby in any season.

    Eric Gagne came out of his throwing session fine. I reminded everyone that the key wasn't the throwing but how he came back from it, and now we're hearing that he has some soreness. I'm OK with that actually. Soreness is not pain, and Gagne can throw with soreness. He's due back on the mound later this week, which will be important. One other factor I wasn't able to run down is where he was sore. Was it a generalized problem, or more specific? I'd prefer a general muscular soreness. It points to Gagne not being ready to go in back-to-back games, thus having some limits on his availability, which increases the value of Akinori Otsuka, C.J. Wilson, and even Frankie Francisco, guys who could be pushed into more and more important innings in Arlington.

  • It was a rough week for closers. Even though J.J. Putz got back out on the field and threw, sources tell me that his pitching elbow is still sore, tender, and even a bit swollen after throwing. Due to throw from the mound on Thursday, Putz's problem is definitely a major concern foor the Mariners. (Seattle scouts watching Armando Benitez tells us just how much.) Putz's work on the mound will show where he is and how much the problem is affecting him, but as always, it will be more important to see how he responds after the session. We're hitting that stage in the spring where shutting someone down, even for a very short time or small problem, puts Opening Day at risk. As good as Putz was last year, his mechanics and the role change were definite risks heading into this season.

  • It's no secret that Tom Gordon went back to Philadelphia earlier this week. The mystery is why. While several sources are eager to say that "nothing's wrong," that type of chorus usually points to a real problem. Pitching coach Rich Dubee told MLB.com that there had been some tenderness and swelling in Gordon's elbow, but that it was normal for this time of year with him. So why the trip back? That remains to be seen, but I'm not reading too much into it. While most teams have their doctors with the team in some fashion during spring training, it's not all the doctors. Consistency of care and familiarity with the situation probably made too much sense to do anything other than put Gordon on a plane. It's worth watching and making sure that you pair Gordon with Ryan Madson in your fantasy draft.

  • Everyone's watching Derrek Lee's wrist, but it was his leg that gave him a problem this week. Lee mildly strained his groin while running the bases, and immediately came out of the game. This doesn't figure to be a long-term problem, given the relative lack of pain and Lee's lack of history with this type of problem. It might point to a general level of fatigue, though there is a pattern of early season leg injuries leading to a reluctance to run. Now, this isn't something I've broken out to the level someone like Dan Fox would, just something I've noticed. Lee's speed and basestealing skills are more of a bonus to his hitting than the reason he's valuable, so even if you cut it in half, he's still better than most other first basemen. As I said, don't expect this to be problematic unless we start seeing recurrences.

  • The Reds are starting to think that Ken Griffey Jr. won't be ready for Opening Day. The hand isn't healed up enough to think that the next two weeks will get him to the place he needs to be. This isn't surprising, given the injury and his history of being a slow healer. Hand injuries tend to linger, much like wrists, though they don't have the same effect as finger injuries. The other thing to note is that the Reds will be looking for roster space throughout the season. Josh Hamilton's presence, much like Wily Mo Pena's a few years back, will necessitate some juggling, though the presence of a roster-multiplying supersub like Ryan Freel helps.

  • One of the big untold stories this spring has been just how different Barry Bonds looks. Not his size, not his head, but his movement--Bonds looks like an athlete this spring rather than an old guy hobbling and swinging with his arms. Bonds says he's "100% better," and I wouldn't disagree. He's not going to be mistaken for the speedy young Barry, but I'd put my money on him in a footrace with Frank Thomas. Bonds' legs should allow him to use his normal powerful swing as well as stay in the field longer, meaning more plate appearances. More plate appearances are likely to mean more home runs, and we know where that ends up.

    Quick Cuts: You have to love the first goofy injury of the spring. Who among us hasn't woken up with a sore neck? Then again, none of us are playing second base in the bigs. That's what happened to Jose Valentin, but he'll be fine ... Scott Podsednik is ahead of schedule in his comeback from hernia surgery. While it's unclear if being ahead puts him in line for the Opening Day start in left, it's now a possibility ... Michael Young didn't just need stitches, according to FOBP Jamey Newberg, he needed a quick procedure to repair the cartilage in his ear after getting beaned. He'll be fine for Opening Day, though ... Mike Timlin was pushed back by a couple days due to continued soreness in his oblique. He's now expected to throw on Saturday ... Juan Encarnacion will start the season on the DL. It's no surprise, given the timing of his wrist surgery. Expect him back sometime in mid to late April ... I'll admit that I'm not completely sure on this, but I think Mark Prior could be optioned to the minor leagues. If you know the rule and can help, email me.

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